On 1 June 2021, an international research project began Germany at Technische Universität (TU) Ilmenau and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which focuses on the risk communication of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany, Europe and the USA. The project is being funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) with a total of 1.8 million euros over a three-year period. "The COVID-19 pandemic led to an excess supply of information, some of which was contradictory and some of which was wrong," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "We want to use this interdisciplinary research project to contribute to a better understanding and observation of the effects of communication for devastating pandemics, such as COVID-19, in the future," adds Professor Dr. Kai-Uwe Sattler from TU Ilmenau.
The project will comparatively analyse how effectively governments, health institutions and the media in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the USA have informed their citizens about COVID-19 and encouraged self-protective conduct. The participants are four departments in the areas of communication science and computer science at TU Ilmenau as well as the Department Risk Communication at the BfR.
Three crucial questions will guide the project: (1) What statements and messages about COVID-19 and the related protective measures have governments and health institutions communicated to the public in the respective countries? (2) How has the media reported on the pandemic and risk messages relating to it from governments? (3) How did the population perceive the pandemic and the risk messages?
The results of the research project aim to show which different risk and crisis communication strategies governments and health authorities in Europe and the USA have used. The public communication and effects of these strategies will be looked at by analysing media, social media and population surveys. This means that not only should the project contribute to the scientific understanding of pandemics, it should also allow conclusions to be made for better communication by authorities and the media in future crisis scenarios of this kind.
The research team will use a multidisciplinary approach to answer these questions, combining expertise and methods from communication science, psychology, and computer science. Innovative data science methods, such as machine learning and network analyses, will also be used to identify influential networks and echo chambers in social media in the context of the pandemic.
Scientists at TU Ilmenau are involved in various subprojects; at the BfR, the Department Risk Communication is conducting research on the population's perception of the pandemic. Furthermore, the project is supported by international experts from Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, the USA, and the United Kingdom.